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On His New Show The Face and His David Mixner Biopic

nigel barker portrait.jpg
Nigel Barker's been up to a lot lately. In addition to his regular duties as fashion photographer and filmmaker, he has two new ventures up his well-tailored sleeves. As fashionistas will know, he hosts The Face, a new show on Oxygen which pits teams of models -- and, by proxy, their team-leader supermodels Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova -- against each other. He also recently announced that he's making a film based on the life legendary gay activist David Mixner, the ex-Clinton adviser and two-time bestselling author who Newsweek once called the most powerful gay man in America. We hopped on the phone with Barker to talk about both projects.

What can we expect from this season of your new show The Face?
The interesting thing about this show -- regardless of whether it's Naomi, Karolina, or Coco -- is that it really breaks down the walls of the modeling business in a much more authentic manner than you've ever seen on television prior to it. These days everyone is very well-rehearsed, they all know their rolls, they all have their characters and they kind of fulfill them. In The Face people are really in the business. Real clients are there every week giving actual jobs, and every thing the girls do is going to be adopted and then be published. Clients themselves pick the winners, not a random panel of judges.

And Stefano Tonchi is the first client. What other high-fashion guests can we expect?
We had Naomi Campbell's little black book of clients, and as executive producer she was calling up editors of magazines and people she worked with. There are lots celebrity types guest starring. She would say, "Look, I'm in a new show, I want you to be in it," and they're like, "Yes. What do we need to do?" I can't reveal too much, but Naomi has people doing TV commercial spots from Cosabella to Marshalls. Christian Louboutin is a part of it. Naomi's one very popular woman.

She's fantastic on the show.
This is the first time she has done a television show of any sort. The most extraordinary thing about it is getting to see the woman behind the myth. Up until now everyone's only seen snippets, drama, the news reports. In The Face you see the real woman, who she is and why she got there, why she fights.

The tension seems to run high between the judges. Do they get along outside the show, or does the animosity carry over?
During shooting, the drama is all true. It's funny because we didn't realize that each one of the supermodels, when they were told "no," was going to get really upset every time. "No" is not something that's in their vocabulary. They like, "Yes, when and how?" At the same time they're all professionals, at the end of the day they relax and realize "Okay, I didn't get this one."

Do you think the team leaders' different modeling experiences affect their leadership? 
One of the great takeaways of The Face is that there isn't just one way. Anybody can get to the top of any career. Look at these three different supermodels -- Naomi is Jamaican via England and has been modeling for 27 years and is a legend, Karolina is this Czech beauty and blonde bombshell who's still very relevant, and Coco is this sort of "it" model at 23, a Jehovah's Witness who has a massive social media following fans who like that she stands for certain values. Supermodels find a way how to do it all, and I think at the end of the day that's what we're looking for.

How did you want The Face to differ from America's Next Top Model? Do you feel it's more high fashion, do you feel it's more realistic?
I think it's probably both, but whether high-fashion or commercial-fashion it's still the fashion business. For all of us, the key became making sure that we brought in real clients, real jobs, real supermodels, real models -- everyone who's actually in the business.

Do you ever watch RuPaul's Drag Race? Ru really likes to emulate Tyra.

Yes, I've seen that. It's kind of brilliant, because it takes the funniest parts of the show and RuPaul does them so well. Don't know if RuPaul will be doing that for The Face, but maybe he'll copy some of our antics.

You're working on a film about David Mixner who's obviously had an unbelievable life. The man publicly and loudly called out Bill Clinton on not repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell." He arranged an Anti-Vietnam protest that was so large that it wound up on the covers of Life, TIME and Newsweek. He has an entire collection in Yale's library devoted to his writings and documentaries! Is his life story just so juicy that you had to make a movie of it? What
about his story attracted you?
First of all I always loved a great, true story. Whenever [David and I] meet I ask him questions about his life. He's an incredible raconteur. I basically sit like a child and get whacked into this story, transformed and taken there. All of a sudden I'm in another era and another moment, and I can feel for the people. And he has a very visual way of describing. I realized [his stories] had the ability to become a film. I asked for consent for a screenplay and eventually a film of his life. He said he'd been approached in the past but never felt there was the right person. Then he said to me, "I would love you to do it."

When did you first meet David?

I first met him at an Alan Cumming salon event. Alan Cumming has these salons where he does interesting things with about 30 people. That time Susan Sarandon was talking. I knew of David Mixner but I didn't know what he looked like. When I was introduced to him he said "Hello, I'm David" and was sitting in a wheelchair. I asked him if I could get him a drink, and he said that he didn't drink. He didn't know many people in this group and we just started talking. Later I realized, "My god, this is David Mixner. I know his story."

How far along in the film-making process are you?
We questioned him for ages and wrote down the stories. He also produced this one-man show called "From the Front Porch" which we recorded and made transcripts of. The screenplay's like a hundred pages over what people like screenplays to be. We're trying to write, get control of it and bring it down. We're hoping to have our screenplay in a good state by the next month or so and really start the process of making the film.

Is it going to span all of David's life, or just the past?
The film will cover his childhood, who he was as a young man, where he comes from in New Jersey -- which seems like it was akin to the Deep South at the time. Then you see his sensibilities grow, his fights for human rights for everybody and anybody he came across -- he dedicated himself to Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, and Peace. The AIDS epidemic hits and is really the change point where many of his friends start to die and be blamed at the same time. He thought that was an outrage. Then of course the rise of the gay movement and him really being in the forefront of it and being a gay rights activist. 

Do you have any actors in mind that you'd like to play David?
I tell you what -- I do, but I don't think it's a good idea to name them. But why don't you ask your readers to get to tell me who they think it should be!

Okay, we will. Will any of the girls from The Face be in it?
I might need Naomi [Laughs].

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